FAQs

We receive a large number of requests for information about the Horizon IT Scandal. This FAQ addresses the most common questions.

Last updated:  5 February 2024

 

Sections:

Criminal prosecutions and appeals

Note: On 10 January 2024, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a statement to the House of Commons: Government to quash wrongful Post Office convictions - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Post Office continues to work with the Government to support its efforts to speed up the exoneration of people with wrongful convictions.

 

Does Post Office still have the power to bring private prosecutions?
Post Office has no special authority to bring private prosecutions. The right to bring a private criminal prosecution is available to both companies and individuals in England and Wales as a result of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. 

Post Office has not undertaken any private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015 and has no intention of doing so. In cases of suspected criminal activity, evidence is referred to the relevant law enforcement agency.

When did Post Office start and stop prosecutions related to Horizon?
Post Office has not undertaken private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015.

The Horizon system was first introduced from 1999. Prosecutions in which Horizon evidence may have featured took place between 1999 and 2015.

Were there also prosecutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS) is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland and undertook all prosecutions of Post Office cases. In Northern Ireland, Post Office cases were undertaken by its principal prosecution authority, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI).

Post Office continues to help other prosecuting authorities to ensure that they have every assistance in taking their work forward. This includes sharing all the information we have in relation to prosecutions which have been brought by other prosecutors.

Other prosecuting bodies include the Crown Prosecution Service, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and, as above, COPFS in Scotland and PPSNI in Northern Ireland.  The relevant prosecuting authority in each case is responsible for the duties which they continue to be responsible for including the handling of appeals. 

Have any cases prosecuted by bodies other than Post Office been appealed?
Yes. In addition to the appeals in which Post Office was the prosecutor, there have been six appeals to date in which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was the Respondent for the appeals, not Post Office. One of these was conceded and the conviction overturned and five were opposed, with the safety of the convictions upheld by the Court of Appeal in two cases and the appeals abandoned in the remaining three.

In Northern Ireland, two convictions have been overturned in appeals in which the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI) was the Respondent.

In Scotland, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced on 8 November 2022 that they had referred six cases to the High Court of Justiciary for determination. On 30 January 2024, the Commission announced referral of a further case. As at 2 February 2024, five convictions have been overturned.

How many prosecutions and convictions were there?
Post Office has currently identified a total of 700 convictions in cases it prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 in which Horizon evidence may have featured.

Post Office has also identified 283 cases which potentially featured Horizon evidence and which were prosecuted during the relevant time (1999 – 2015) by other bodies, not Post Office.

Other prosecuting bodies include the Crown Prosecution Service, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and, as above, COPSF in Scotland and PPSNI in Northern Ireland.  The relevant prosecuting authority in each case is responsible for the ongoing duties which attach to them including the handling of appeals. Post Office continues to help other prosecuting authorities to ensure that they have every assistance in taking their work forward. This includes sharing all the information we have in relation to prosecutions which have been brought by other prosecutors.

Can people who were prosecuted by other bodies, not Post Office, seek compensation from Post Office if their convictions are overturned?
Yes.

How is Post Office contacting people with convictions so that they can appeal?
We have contacted the majority of people with relevant convictions in cases prosecuted by Post Office between 1999 and 2015, although there remain 25 people that we are still unable to trace despite continuing strenuous efforts to do so. More detail about Post Office’s work to assist people with convictions can be found here.

We completely understand that there may be people who would prefer to leave the past behind them, that revisiting a painful part of their life is incredibly difficult and they may not want to respond to Post Office. For this reason, we asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body that investigates potential miscarriages of justice, to contact people who had not yet responded to Post Office and they have been doing so. Details can be found on the CCRC website  here.

Progress on appeals through the Courts can be found here and information about assistance can be found here.

Why is Post Office opposing some appeal cases?
Post Office’s legal duties and, independently, those of its barristers, are to the Court.

It is solely for the Court to determine the safety of convictions based on the specific facts and circumstances of each case.

The Court makes its determination irrespective of whether or not an appeal is conceded by the prosecuting authority ensuring its decision is entirely independent.

You can find more information on the progress of appeals here.

The Court of Appeal judgments to date are:

Josephine Hamilton & others (23 April 2021)

Robert Ambrose & others (7 October 2021)

Roger Allen & others (10 December 2021)

Margaret White & David Cameron (31 March 2022)

Hawkes R & others (1 September 2022)

Sheila Coultas & anor (27 April 2023)

O’Donnell v Post Office Ltd (15 August 2023)

Compensation

When will people be compensated?
We understand that it is imperative that people should receive compensation as quickly as possible. That is why, across all Schemes, interim payments are made ahead of final settlements in order to alleviate financial hardship.

We will continue to do all that we can to get compensation to those affected as quickly as possible. In the meantime:

  • more than 82% of claims in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme have received full and agreed compensation;
  • Almost a third of those whose convictions have been overturned have also now been paid full settlements under the Overturned Convictions Scheme; and
  • in both schemes, interim payments are made to alleviate financial hardship.

Those who brought the action against Post Office in the High Court and were part of its settlement receive ex-gratia compensation directly from Government, though a Scheme operated by the Department for Business & Trade. This scheme opened for claims in March 2023 and the latest information can be found on the Government website here: Compensation scheme for Group Litigation Order case postmasters - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

What is done to ensure independence in assessing compensation payments?
Both Post Office and Government are committed to full and fair compensation. Each compensation scheme incorporates assessments by independent experts.

There is no exhaustive list of the types of individual losses being compensated, nor are there ‘caps’ on amounts. 

In the Horizon Shortfalls Scheme, anyone is, rightly, entitled to dispute their offer of compensation, following their claim. They may be advised by independent legal experts in doing so. The costs of that independent legal advice is reimbursed by Post Office and and an interim payment of up to 100% of the proposed settlement is provided to help alleviate financial pressures.

In the Overturned Convictions Scheme, claimants can elect to opt for a fast-tracked settlement of £600,000 if they wish or make a formal claim.  Lord Dyson considered the awards available for non-pecuniary damages, which are personal damages such as mental distress and loss of liberty, in an early neutral evaluation process and the Government announced on 8 January 2024 that Sir Gary Hickinbottom has agreed to chair an independent panel that will assess ‘pecuniary’ (financial) losses where disputes arise. 

Why are public funds being used to compensate postmasters?
It is a priority for us to provide full, fair and final compensation as quickly as possible and we have made substantial progress. Post Office does not have the financial resources to pay meaningful compensation and we welcome funding support from Government to help enable this.

Has the Horizon Scandal made Post Office insolvent?
No. Government, our shareholder, is providing funding support for compensation payments. Details of Post Office’s financial position can be found in our Report and Accounts.

Why has the name of the Historical Shortfall Scheme changed to Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
Following feedback received, the name of the Scheme changed on 7 July 2023 to Horizon Shortfall Scheme. It is the same Scheme and there are no other changes. Therefore, current or former applicants do not need to do anything further, or re-apply.

The feedback received was that the word ‘historical’, included in the name of the previous Scheme, was considered offensive to some Postmasters because the impact of the Horizon Scandal has continued to affect their lives and was very much not historical. No offence was ever intended and the word historical was used solely to clarify that the Scheme offers redress for past shortfalls, related to previous versions of Horizon (pre-2017). Post Office is sorry for any offence caused.

How much is the average compensation payment in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments as these are assessed by the Scheme’s independent advisory panel who recommend fair outcomes for claims.

Details of payments made to date can be found here but individual cases vary significantly in amounts claimed and their complexity and therefore the published figures cannot be interpreted as an indicator of future payments or the overall potential cost of the scheme. More straightforward claims of lower amounts have naturally generally been completed more quickly through the Scheme.

Has the cost of establishing and running the Horizon Shortfall Scheme affected compensation amounts?
No. The costs of establishing and running the scheme have no impact on individual compensation payments as there is an independent advisory panel assessing claims. There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments.

How did Post Office let postmasters know they could claim compensation through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
When the Scheme opened, individual letters were sent to over 7,000 current postmasters and nearly 20,000 former postmasters. A paid-for media campaign was also undertaken with extensive press advertising, including a total of two weeks of advertising in four national papers and four weeks in large regional daily and weekly local papers. The Scheme remains open for late applications.

Are there ‘caps’ on losses compensated through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
No. Post Office is acutely aware of the severity of the impacts on postmasters’ lives caused by our past failings, which is why we are making sure each case is carefully considered by an independent advisory panel, sensitive to the individual’s circumstances. There is no exhaustive list of the types of individual losses being compensated through the Scheme; nor are there ‘caps’ on amounts. 

Unlike in civil litigation, the Scheme’s independent advisory panel assessing applications is not limited to the confines of legal principles and evidence as a court would be.  The panel, drawn from the relevant areas of law, retail and forensic accountancy, assesses individual claims and uses a fairness discretion to take into account all matters they consider will produce a fair result in all the circumstances, including the testimony of individual postmasters of their experiences.  As the scheme has progressed, we have listened, responded to feedback and we will continue to ensure consistency and fairness for applicants.

Why does Post Office not provide legal costs for claimants until they receive compensation offers from the Scheme?
Post Office provides the costs of independent legal advice once claimants receive their offers because it is at that point that they receive the recommendation of the Scheme’s Independent Advisory Panel and information about how this was decided.  Claimants who are unhappy with their offer can rightly dispute it, with independent legal advice continuing to be reimbursed by Post Office and an interim payment of up to 100% of the proposed settlement. The dispute process also provides for free, independent mediation. 

What is the position on tax of compensation provided by the Scheme?
Post Office welcomed the announcement by Government on 19 June 2023 that enables us to address tax treatment of compensation for postmasters in the Scheme. Government announced that it would fund top-up payments to ensure compensation received is not unduly reduced by tax.

More detail  can be found on the Scheme’s website here.

Horizon & Inquiry

Is Horizon still being used?
Yes. There have been several versions of Horizon since its introduction in 1999 and the current version of the system, introduced from 2017, was found in the group litigation to be robust, relative to comparable systems. But we are not complacent about that and are continuing to work, together with our postmasters, to make improvements.

We will be moving away from Horizon to a new IT cloud-based system that will be more user-friendly and easier to adapt for new products and services. This is currently being developed with the involvement of our Postmasters.

Have any customers been impacted by the past Horizon issues?
The issues involved related to potential impacts on postmasters’ branch accounting. Our services to customers were not affected.

What are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
We have undertaken a programme of wholesale reform. We have undertaken, together with postmasters, vital work to improve our culture, practices and operating procedures throughout every part of the business.

We have increased postmasters’ remuneration and transformed the support we provide. There are now two serving postmasters who are Non-Executive Directors to the Post Office Board to ensure that decisions taken at the very top of the organisation are grounded in reality for postmasters.

Why hasn’t anyone at Post Office been held to account for the Horizon Scandal?
There is a public Inquiry, led by a Judge, Sir Wyn Williams, that is examining the events of the past and we share fully its aims to establish what went wrong and accountability. It is for Sir Wyn to independently provide his Inquiry’s conclusions in due course.

Why have there been some issues with disclosure of documents to the Inquiry?
We fully share the aims of the Inquiry to get to the truth and we have no interest in delay – people affected by the scandal need answers and today’s Post Office cannot move forward until the past is addressed.

The Inquiry is examining complex issues that spanned more than two decades, including a lengthy period when Post Office was part of Royal Mail Group. 

Disclosure for the Inquiry is a huge exercise which is challenging - it  involves more than 60 million documents spanning more than two decades, with hundreds of digital and hard copy repositories. We are working hard with our specialist contractors to ensure disclosure is timely and complete.